Plans for airport city style development at Nadzab Airport – located 42km to the northwest of Lae, capital of the Morobe Province and Papua New Guinea’s second largest city – emerged in a 2011 masterplan for future growth of the airport both as an aeronautical hub and as a commercial and industrial centre. Nadzab Airport’s extensive land holding was earmarked for development and expansion over a time-frame of 50-70 years. The graphic below, showing a business hub next to the airport, is from Nadzab Central Strategic Plan, produced by Planpac and identifying development opportunities for 700 hectares of greenfield land.
Tensions between clans over ownership of land parcels date back to the inception of the airport project, in 1972 when the country was under Australian colonial administration. A loan agreement between the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the PNG government – for ¥26,942 million (USD225.2 million) of an estimated project cost of ¥32,246 million (USD269.6 million) – was signed on 14th October 2015 and the project came to be known as Nadzab Airport Redevelopment Plan (NARP). Plans for an Airport City were mentioned in 2017 and in February 2020 NARP project manager said it was a major airport and city development and the provincial government must help address landowner issues. Prime Minister James Marape tasked Lands and Planning Minister John Rosso to start mobilising landowners in preparation for the project. In April 2021 PNG National Airports Corporation (NAC) managing director and chief executive Rex Kiponge said that upon completion of NARP the airport city concept would be rolled out, saying “When the airport is complete, the commercial aspects of the airport business hub must complement it.”
The village of Gabsongkeg is at the centre of NARP and landowners have made repeated calls for consultation, participation in the project and spin-off business opportunities. In 2020 landowners were disappointed that construction and security contracts were awarded to outsiders overlooking reputable local businesses. In January 2022 it was reported that only a small number of landowners were benefitting from leasing their customary land for associated businesses. Local people impacted by airport development still lack clean running water, electricity and adequate health facilities. NARP and other projects, such as a 4-lane highway and gold and copper mining, have triggered an influx of people, disrupting the social fabric and leading to increased social problems including violence, killings and drug & alcohol abuse. The area lacks a police station to address these issues.
Serious social problems of rape, underage marriage and prostitution specifically harm women. And women have been marginalized in land-related negotiations and decisions due to government assumptions of patrilineal land descent. Yet in the midst of these difficulties 60 Gabsongkeg women – planning ahead as most of the land in Gabsongkeg where coconut, plantain, cocoa and other trees are cultivated, is set to be taken over by the Nadzab township development – have established table markets selling food and other goods. They have increased their incomes and aim to grow their ventures into small-medium sized enterprises to support their families in the future.
A drive to evict informal settlers living on parcels of land around Jacksons Airport, Papua New Guinea’s main airport located to the northeast of Port Moresby, was announced in the early days of 2022. Residents of the Saiwara community protested being issued with several eviction notices over the past year by the National Airports Corporation (NAC), the most recent giving them until the end of the month to vacate the area. A petition against the eviction was signed by 5,000 residents and a representative stated that they had been paying a traditional landowner for the land. Many tax-paying small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) also urged the government to stop the evictions. A video by EMTV Online shows men, women and children protesting, some holding up placards with statements such as ‘No Eviction Please’, ‘No Eviction, What is Government doing For My Future’.
Simultaneous with the eviction drive in Saiwara, NAC began pressuring residents to vacate Erima, another area adjacent to Jacksons Airport. A group of policemen visited communities and issued eviction notices. A long term resident said, “Police said the land close to the airport belongs to the National Airports Corporation and people must move out before the eviction date.” NAC managing director Rex Kiponge stated that the land belonged to NAC and that people must vacate the land by the end of January. He said, “I personally witnessed and heard from the police that any settlement or houses near the airport must be immediately moved out of force will be applied” and urged people living in the affected area to find a place to resettle.
A graphic in the EMTV Online video shows the parcels of land surrounding Jacksons Airport that the NAC lays claim to and where residents have been served with eviction notices. NAC managing director Rex Kiponge explained that the eviction drive was a strategic move to utilize the land for a non-aeronautical revenue stream, i.e. generation of revenue from sources other than airlines. (Typical sources of non-aeronautical revenue include retail, hotels, tourism facilities, business premises, real estate and car parking.) Kiponge also mentioned another hallmark characteristic of an aerotropolis/airport city: aspiriations for an airport to become a destination in its own right. He said that eviction of people from land around Jacksons Airport would support NAC’s new policy, namely ‘Converting Airports from Point of Transit to Point of Destination’. NAC’s focus on development of land for non-aeronautical purposes has been galvanised by a collapse in its revenue stream due to the drastic reduction in air traffic since the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, NAC’s revenue had consisted of 80% from aeronautical business and 20% from non-aeronautical business. Kiponge said the NAC needed to start generating its own revenue and recouping its assets was in line with this aim.
Following questions in Parliament from member for Moresby North East, John Kaupa, PNG Prime Minister James Marape intervened, assuring settlers on airport-owned land at Erima and Saiwara that they would not be evicted by the NAC until a permanent solution was reached. He asked NAC to freeze their eviction plan. But the settlers are still under pressure to leave; Marape warned them not to move in onto state land and start building structures if they are not in possession of titles, saying that the Government would not step in to assist anyone on humanitarian grounds.
The current drive to evict communities living around Jacksons Airport is the latest in a series. In February 2017 police evicted more than 200 families who were living on state-owned land in Erima Bridge. Some of them had lived in makeshift and semi-permanent housing for more than 20 years. The officer in charge of Jacksons Airport said the police were acting on the orders of the land owned by the NAC and that over the course of a week all the houses and tents in the area in question had been removed. It was reported that they were left sleeping out in cold, wet weather conditions for a few days. Their only shelter was wooden frames and roofing iron and they had no food, water or clothing. A settler who had moved to Erima from the Highlands region said some people whose homes were destroyed had not received an eviction notice. At the time of the Erima Bridge eviction the Asian Development Bank (ADB) confirmed support for expansion of Jacksons Airport, signing an agreement with NAC to develop a new international passenger terminal. In May 2015 a demolition exercise at another settlement near Jacksons Airport, 7 mile, left more than 200 people homeless. Some of them were beaten up by the eviction squad. Evictees lost all they owned during the demolition and some homes were burned down. The eviction was part of NAC’s development plan for Jacksons Airport.
Amazon’s expansion of its e-commerce logistics network, giant distribution and fulfilment centres, continues during the Covid-19 pandemic. Several new facilities are airport-adjacent and many are supported by tax breaks.
Online buying has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. Confinement of American citizens to their homes under ‘shelter in place’ orders and closure of shops selling non-essential goods have been a gift to e-commerce firms with extensive home delivery networks. E-commerce spending in the US surged by 78% in May, with Amazon, Target and Walmart reporting soaring online sales. Amazon, expanding its market share to nearly 40% of all online sales, has been the biggest winner. The first week of July 2020 marked the twelfth straight week of over 60% year-on-year growth of customer spending on Amazon. And Amazon is consolidating its distribution dominance by adding to its existing large facilities at airports, strategically located in proximity to fulfilment centres (warehouses for receiving and processing orders). A fleet of trucks, estimated to number over 20,000, delivers products and packages to urban centres.
Amazon’s surface shipping network is supported by Amazon Air (formerly known as Amazon Prime Air), a wholly owned subsidiary of the retail, e-commerce and logistics giant. Growth of Amazon Air is accelerating in 2020 and is a cornerstone of Amazon’s drive to challenge the dominance of FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service (USPS) in the overnight and 2-day home delivery market. Amazon’s fleet of cargo aircraft is anticipated to grow from 42 at present to 70 by 2021. A fleet of this size would place Amazon Air, its route network almost entirely within North America, among the world’s largest cargo airlines.
Amazon ‘super hub’ at CVG
A massive new air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG) appears to be the lynchpin of Amazon’s expansion of domestic deliveries across the US. The new facility is expected to handle 200 flights per day, becoming Amazon Air’s ‘super hub’. Construction has caused problems for neighbouring homes and business premises. For more than a year vibrations from blasting works during construction caused damage to buildings along with uncontrolled dust and noise. Two affected residents filed a complaint seeking to allow residents living within 1 mile of the site to file a class action lawsuit against the contractors building the air hub. A construction worker, Loren Shoemake, was killed in a accident on the site. $40 million in state and local tax incentives and an additional $5 million from CVG Airport were given to Amazon to develop the air cargo hub at CVG and the State of Kentucky built a new interchange on the Interstate-275 highway to serve the development.
Nearly $3 billion tax breaksand counting
Amazon’s growth is partly due to its agressive stragetegy for getting tax breaks. Amazon Tracker, created by Good Jobs First, a non-profit organisation focusing on government and corporate accountability, tallies tax breaks and other subsidies given to Amazon for warehouses, other distribution network facilities and data centers. At the time of writing the total amounted to $2,982,000,000. Amazon facilites at airports benefitting from subsidies include hubs at Lakeland in Polk County, Florida and Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma, and distribution centres at Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina and Romulus, Michigan.
Charlotte City Council approved $13.4 million in incentives to Amazon to bring an Amazon facility to Charlotte Douglas Airport. Opening in September 2019, the distribution centre has a footprint of 855,000 square feet, about the size of 15 football pitches. An identically sized Amazon fulfilment centre, on 84 acres of land in Romulus, north of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, was granted a $5 million state subsidy from the Michigan Strategic Fund in 2017. In addition $13.5 million of Michigan tax dollars was allocated for infrastructure around the site. The director of the Detroit Regional Aerotropolis Development Corporation said Amazon would attract other transportation and logistics firms to vacant property near the airport. Efforts to develop 6,000 acres of land within Detroit Regional Aerotropolis began in 2007 but never took off.
During 2020 Amazon has continued expansion of its surface shipping network, constructing and leasing massive warehouses across the US, in several instances supported by tax breaks and state funding for associated road infrastructure. In June 2020 the town of North Andover, Massachusetts, approved an estimated $27 million in tax incentives to Amazon for a massive 3.8 million square feet, five-storey high distribution centre. A tax increment finance agreement will reduce Amazon’s property tax bill for a decade. The amount is almost equal to the combined total of tax breaks previously granted to the company for other facilities in Massachusetts in the past few years: $16 million in state and local tax incentives for a large distribution centre in Fall River, an estimated $3.5 million for a sortation centre in Stoughton and up to $10 million in property tax breaks from the city of Boston for new offices in the Seaport District. The 110 acre North Andover site, formerly an industrial complex, is adjacent to Lawrence Municipal Airport with easy access to two interstate highways, the I-495 partial beltway around Boston and the I-93 arterial road extending from southwest Boston to St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
Over in Ohio construction of an Amazon fulfilment centre with a 2.8 million square feet footprint in Rossford, Wood County, was nearing completion by the end of June 2020. Interior works on robotics and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) were underway and the scope of the project had expanded; 300 parking spaces for tractor-trailers in initial designs had increased to 719. Also in Ohio, state funding for a road project in Etna Township, Licking County is related to an Amazon building. One of the biggest speculative developments in the country, the footprint is reportedly 1.2 million square feet. The 15th June 2020 meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board approved release of $800,000 in support of the Amazon project, to extend a road “needed for basic access to the facility.” The 85 jobs that will be created by the road project come at the expense of a hefty subsidy: $9,411 per job. State largesse for Amazon was the polar opposite of swingeing $850,000 cuts to the nearby Southwest Licking School District, part of statewide budget cuts announced in May.
More Amazon facilities in California
Imminent opening of a large new Amazon distribution centre at Meadows Field Airport in Kern County, California – a four floor facility with a footprint measuring 640,000 square feet – was announced in June 2020. Kern County agreed to give Amazon $3 million in local tax rebates in 2018, a subsidy package that would award the company annual refunds of approximately $275,000 for more than a decade.
Speculation that Amazon is developing a western hub at San Bernardino Airport was confimed on 8th May 2020 when the tenant of a major new air cargo facility was announced and the project named Amazon Air Regional Air Hub. Up until this point the tenant of what had previously been called the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility had not been disclosed. Amazon has already built 14 giant fulfilment centres in the San Bernardino and Riverside communities, known as the Inland Empire and one of the biggest hubs for goods warehousing and distribution in the US. High levels of air pollution from logistics traffic is compounded by geography; the area sits in a valley between two mountain ranges, forming a bowl trapping pollutants and emissions drift inland from Los Angeles. Several studies link poor air quality to health problems.
More air cargo flights at San Bernardino Airport will bring more trucks, more traffic and more pollution. Specifications for the air cargo facility include two new driveways into the site with two new bridges crossing the City Creek Bypass Channel. Hundreds of local residents attended meetings to raise concerns over pollution from air cargo flights at the new San Bernardino Airport facililty and the projected 1,568 diesel-fuelled truck trips per day. A coalition of residents, community organisations, labour unions and churches united under the San Bernardino Airport Communities banner to push for good jobs during construction and operation and protection from air pollution, noise and road traffic impacts.
Two local community groups in Sonoma, Northern California, called for public input on a proposal to lease a vast warehouse to Amazon for its North Bay delivery hub project, questioning whether the turning the space into a major regional delivery centre violates the terms of the permit for the building. The property is zoned for light manufacturing, research and development, warehousing and distribution or retail/office use. Norman Gilroy of Mobilize Sonoma and Kathy Pons of the Valley of the Moon Alliance raised concerns that operation of a major regional delivery centre will increase intensity of the building’s use, without planning review or public comment, enquiring about the number of vehicles that will enter and leave the building on a typical day. The facility is anticipated to open in the autumn. In June 2020 neighbouring residents, concerned when they noticed a large crane at work, alerted county officials. An inspector verified that no permit for the work existed, leading to issuance of a ‘stop work’ order and a fine.
Houston, Florida, New York, Connecticut
Construction of a massive Amazon warehouse just southwest of Houston began in June 2020. The new fulfilment centre, on a 93.5 acre site, will have an 855,000 square feet footprint. Amazon built its first facility in the area, in north Houston, a few years ago, receiving a 10-year tax break from Harris County that was expected to save the company $180,000 annually. Elsewhere in the Houston area Amazon also has a fulfilment centre in Brookshire and a sorting facility near George Bush Intercontinental Airport. In central Florida the aforementioned Amazon air cargo hub at Lakeland Linder Airport is taking shape, a 300,000 square foot, three storey building taking up 47 acres of airport land. Then in July Amazon secured approval to build what might be its largest distribution facility in South Florida, near the Homestead Air Reserve Base in south Miami-Dade.
In New York, work on Amazon’s 450,000 square foot last mile facility in Bloomfield, Staten Island was deemed essential construction during the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon already has a facility in Staten Island, an 855,000 square foot distribution centre opened on the West Shore in 2017. On 23rd June Amazon inked an agreement to lease space for an even bigger facility in Queens. A disused containerboard factory will be demolished and replaced with a massive 1 million square foot four-storey warehouse which will be the largest in New York City. Simultaneously, steel girders were being erected for an Amazon distribution centre in Clay, a town in Onondaga, a northern suburb of Syracuse. Upon completion, scheduled for autumn 2021 in time for Christmas deliveries, the five-storey, 3.8 million square foot facility will, in term of floorspace, be one of the largest in the world. Jobs will be created, but mainly for robots. Employing just 1,000 people it will be one of Amazon’s most automated sites. Little remains of the golf course that previously occupied the site, for 73 years. Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency approved $70.8 million in tax breaks for this Amazon distribution centre project.
On 26th May 2020 a second Amazon warehouse/distribution centre in Windsor, Connecticut received local land use approvals. The 147 acre hub will be built on former tobacco farmland. Amazon, aiming to start construction in the third quarter of 2020, sought multi-year tax breaks for the development. Windsor’s economic development commission obliged, recommending approval of a seven-year 100% cent tax abatement. The site is on the Bradley Airport Connector highway connecting Bradley Airport with Interstate-91, the major north–south transportation corridor in central Connecticut.
The tax breaks for the new Amazon facility, approved by Windor town council, were more modest than had been suggested: a three-year 50% abatement of real property taxes plus a 50% reduction in building permit fees. Amazon is projected to net savings of $8.78 million from the deal. Good Jobs First expressed its opinion on granting tax incentives to Amazon in a tweet:
On 22nd June Amazon decided to open two distribution centres in the south suburbs of Chicago, in Matteson and Markham, each measuring 855,000 square feet and anticipated to employ 1,000 people. The low employment density ratio is partly due to automation; the facilities will use ‘the newest generation of Amazon robots’ to pick, pack and ship goods. Several officials said Amazons’ decision to locate the warehouses in Matteson and Markham strengthened the case for proceeding with the long proposed south suburban airport in Peotone, as an air cargo hub. The new Amazon facilities are within a few miles of the airport project site. Government funding for road construction linking to the airport site is already allocated: more than $205 million from the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan for construction of Interstate 57 (I-57) related to the airport property. David Greising, president and Chief Executive of the Better Government Association, wrote that area would be better served with road and bridge upgrades serving rail and trucking routes than by ‘sinking $205 million into an “airport to nowhere” off I-57 toward Peotone’.
A third major Chicago region airport, on farmland in Peotone, has been proposed since the 1980s. Illinois Department of Transportation started buying land surrounding the site in 2002, amassing 5,000 acres of the proposed 6,000 acres for the ‘inaugural footprint’ for the airport. Farmer Judy Ogalla, who owns land in the proposed airport site where she grows corn, soybeans and wheat, said “We have great soil…It doesn’t have any sense to pave over that when we have an airport in Gary.” Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said construction of the airport would destroy 1,200 acres of flood plains and 180 acres of wetlands. Opposition to Peotone airport has been sustained by Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, a group composed of environmentalists, farmers and other residents.
Amazon’s cloud cluster, data centres housed in another set of ubiquitous grey warehouses, casts an ever heavier earthly footprint. Already Amazon operates more than 50 data centres in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia, the largest single concentration of corporate data centres on the planet. Amazon seeks to expand this by building a massive, 2.5 million square feet, data centre campus south of Dulles Airport. This is one of five potential Amazon data centre projects being developed as the cloud cluster becomes a ‘cloud corridor’. Amazon and its development partners have been land banking, buying parcels of land for future development, adjcacent to Dulles Airport. Some Loudoun County community members are critical of data centre design and location. Over 100 data centres lining major roads dominate the visual landscape and lead to tensions over noise in residential neighbourhoods.
A long time ago, in an article I can no longer find, the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole developed the idea of “cargo cults” as the objects of politics. Heathrow and its expansion has long been such a cargo cult in British politics. To save non-anthropologist readers among you from having to google it, a cargo cult refers originally to the belief among Melanesian islanders that material wealth can be achieved through the ritual worship of an object. Pleasingly, some of the Melanesian cargo cults involved building models of runways and planes. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The aim of the action day, part of a wider week of activities around the world, is to highlight the madness of airport expansion at a time when all the available, credible science is not just telling us, but yelling at us: stop extracting and burning fossil fuels!
Yep, a third runway at Heathrow will probably be given the green light this year, as part of this government’s deluded attempts to ‘keep Britain competitive’ and help transform us into a ‘global powerhouse’ post-Brexit (by importing and exporting more stuff to ever further flung destinations).
Oh, and to cater for the growing demand in leisure flights by frequent binge flyers here in the UK, and the swelling global middle class. Because it’s everyone’s right to fly as far and as often as…
From 2nd – 4th July, about 100 people gathered in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital city, to participate in the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions. Representatives from Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong and the Philippines attended and presentations about cases of forced displacement were made before a panel of five jurors. Taoyuan Aerotropolis, a massive planned development around Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan’s main airport on the outskirts of Taipei, was one of the eviction cases presented. Most of the 3,700 hectares of land earmarked for expropriation for the aerotropolis is fertile farmland and 46,000 people face loss of their homes and farmland.
Other eviction caseshighlighted at the ITE-EA included: informal settlements in Taipei; eviction of Shinjuku Kasumigaoka-cho public housing complex under the Olympic 2020 Stadium Project in Tokyo; the Yongsan Tragedy in Seoul; eviction of rooftop tenants in Hong Kong, the 25 year struggle of the Pom Mahakan community in Bangkok; the Kampung Gatco community in Sembilan, Malaysia and the Sitio San Roque case in Quezon, the Philippines.
TheITE East Asia meeting was part of preparations for the fifth International Tribunal on Eviction (ITE) session, which is slated to be held in mid-October in Quito, Ecuador as part of the United Nations Habitat III conference on housing and sustainable urban development. Fittingly, the first day of the tribunal was held at the former site of the Huaguang community, in the heart of Taipei, where a disadvantaged neighbourhood was demolished in 2013 in to make way for an upmarket development. The government defined people who had been living in the Huanguang community for decades as ‘illegal residents’ and pressured them to leave by imposing fines and lawsuits on them. Forced evictions began without a relocation plan, leaving many residents homeless. Ketty Chen, a political scientist and academic, has posted a moving account of a two-day protest, by residents and supporters, attempting to block excavators from entering the site for the fourth wave of evictions.
On the final day of the ITE East Asia tribunal event, on Monday 4th July, more than 200 people marched through Taipei to the Presidential Office to protest forced evictions. The route of the march, beginning at the site of the former Huaguang community, is shown here. Along the way they stopped outside the Transportation Ministry to protest the Taoyuan Aerotropolis, the Tainan underground rail plan and other land expropriation projects. The draft recommendations of the tribunal showed that the number of people affected by forced eviction in the cases that had been considered added up to a total of nearly 1 million. March against forced evictions in Taipei, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License
As they marched through Taipei demonstrators demanded that the government initiate discussions on housing rights, pay special attention to eviction cases nationwide and adopt recommendations passed at the International Tribunal on Evictions’ (ITE) meeting. Some of the protesters threw shoes at signs, an expression of anger that the Presidential Office, claiming a full schedule, refused to send representatives to meet with them. More photos of the march have been posted by the Taiwan Alliance of Anti-Forced Eviction.
In May 2016 several legal academics pointed out legal flaws in the proposed hearing procedures for land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, expressing doubts over provision of information to residents in order for them to exercise their rights, and whether their opinions would be incorporated in the decision-making process. A few days before presenting the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case at the evictions tribunal, on 21st June, groups opposing the project requested that the government stop land expropriation and review the Environmental Impact Assessment of the planned third runway, which is integral to the project. Land expropriation for the new runway would entail the forced relocation of 20,000 people.
The third runway also raises safety and environmental concerns. The site is exposed to strong winds and its location, close to the sea with soft, sandy soil, would require extensive land filling operations in order to bear the weight of aircraft. The proposed third runway location poses a risk of bird strikes and is very close to a fuel depot holding up to 130,000 kilolitres of fuel. Opponents of Taoyuan Aerotropolis have accused authorities of circumventing the law by proceeding with the land expropriation for the third runway, and beginning construction of basic infrastructure, before completion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).
Video recordings of the East Asia Regional Tribunal on Evictions have been published online, with some sections translated into English. Presentation and discussion of the Taoyuan Aerotropolis case is in the first recording beginning at 1 minute 39 seconds. Unfortunately translation into English is not audible for most of this segment. A second section of the event recording is available here.